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Planning commissioners say South Lamar development will make Austin a ‘real city’

Thursday, August 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

To bring more commercial and multifamily space to the South Lamar Corridor, Endeavor Real Estate Group, the owner of a 1.8-acre lot on the corner of South Lamar Boulevard and Bluebonnet Lane, requested a zoning change at the Aug. 13 meeting of the Planning Commission to add vertical mixed-used to the mix.

The property is composed of three separate lots under the same ownership and currently consists of an automotive repair shop, an unused parking lot and undeveloped land. Adding the vertical mixed-use zoning would allow for Endeavor to develop a project that, according to Richard Suttle, who was representing the applicant, will exceed the minimum residential units requested by the surrounding neighborhoods “by almost double.”

The Zilker Neighborhood Association and South Lamar Neighborhood Association requested a minimum of 125 units to be developed. Developing these units in conjunction with retail, Suttle said, will allow for more affordable units.

The current project includes 205 units of multifamily housing and 25,000 square feet of shopping center space.

Although the neighborhoods in the area sent representatives to the Planning Commission meeting to show their support of increased housing options, they also expressed trepidation about increasing vehicle trips to the intersection.

Lorraine Atherton, who spoke on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, told the commission that the intersection at Lamar and Bluebonnet is already busy and that any new development needs to be “housing people, not cars.” As a result, she asked the commission to retain the current trip limit imposed on the property.

The property was originally rezoned in 2008 with a conditional overlay that restricts vehicle traffic to 2,000 trips per day. That was based on a neighborhood traffic analysis survey the same year that assumed the site would be developed with only 3,800 square feet of retail use.

Heather Chaffin from the Planning and Zoning Department noted that while planning staffers support the zoning request change, they are doing so with the understanding that the 2,780-trip limit determined in the Traffic Impact Analysis report done by the Austin Transportation Department in July is applicable.

In addition to concerns about increased traffic, Atherton noted that the neighborhood would like a more restrictive list of retail uses on the site, particularly for the restaurants.  The conditional overlay on the property prohibits certain commercial units, and there is a private restrictive covenant with the neighborhood to eliminate drive-thru fast-food options. She told commissioners that the neighborhood would also like to restrict late-night sales of alcohol since the site abuts a residential area.

After the commission voted, Suttle told the Austin Monitor that the developer on the project would have been amenable to this restriction had the Planning Commission followed the neighborhoods’ lead. He said, “If that was going to make the neighborhood happy, we’re willing to do it.”

“I think this sterilizes this (place) in a way that a real city tries to avoid,” said Commissioner Greg Anderson. “I think it’s OK to treat a place like it’s a real city.”

Commissioner Conor Kenny said, “South Lamar is never going to be peaceful.”

Despite the surrounding neighborhoods’ requests to further limit retail uses on the property to focus on residential, the commissioners pushed to allow a variety of uses. They did agree to follow the recommendation of staff to prohibit certain uses, including automotive, pawnshop and funeral services and exterminators.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the rezoning of the project. Commissioners Awais Azhar, Patrick Howard, Patricia Seeger and Robert Schneider were absent.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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